When Paul Davis walked into a soup kitchen on Kensington Avenue nearly 40 years ago with his mother, he never expected that visit would set his life on a forward trajectory.
Davis, recently promoted to colonel in the U.S. Army, grew up with a single mother who did her best to provide for him, but according to him they were living below the poverty level.
“We ran into some hard times,” Davis said. “My mom worked very hard.”
Davis was 8 years old when a recruiter from the Milton Hershey School approached him and his mother at that soup kitchen and set his life on a new path
Davis felt conflicted about attending. “I was excited about doing this new thing, but didn’t want to leave my mom,” Davis said.
The Milton Hershey School is a residential school, meaning that the children live there. The students live with houseparents who work for Milton Hershey. Students experience structured living, they go to school, do extracurriculars and chores.
The school serves students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, they are divided into divisions: the elementary division, middle division and senior division.
After reassurance from his mother that this would be the best step for him, Davis enrolled in third grade at Milton Hershey. His mother moved to the Northeast soon after. Suddenly, Davis had access to nutritious meals, his grades went up, he played sports and did other activities.
His mother moved to Frankford and he returned home to visit the Northeast on major holidays.
“A bus trip home was like a mini excursion,” Davis said.
Davis would often come home to the Northeast and visit with local friends and relatives.
“My friends and I loved playing sports, and hanging out in the local area,” Davis said.
Davis’ house parents, Betty Ann and Robert Cayer, raised him during his high school years. They praised Davis, “He was always cooperative and respectful,” Betty Ann said. “He got along with everyone.”
Robert added that Davis was not resentful of his mother, but was grateful she made the decision to send him to Milton Hershey.
“He [Robert] was there for my last four years when I needed a father to guide me,” Davis said.
Davis spoke of what he referred to as “hard rights and easy wrongs.” He said the values instilled in him at Milton Hershey from the structured environment and his houseparents enabled him to always choose the hard right.
After Davis graduated from Milton Hershey he went on to Shippensburg University, where he joined the ROTC program there. He graduated from Shippensburg in 1998 as a second lieutenant in the Army.
Davis served all over the world during his time in the Army. He was in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan six times.
“It was scary, but I was determined,” Davis said. “The mission was important — I feel blessed to be able to have served.”
Now, Davis is honored to be promoted to colonel in the Army. “I would not have achieved this rank without having the best mentors, the most selfless peers and outstanding soldiers,” Davis said.
Davis now mentors students at Milton Hershey and recent graduates who are interested in the military.
“It’s my way of giving back,” Davis said. ••